The NSA’s colossal Cray supercomputer, code-named the ‘Black Widow,’ scans millions of domestic and international phone calls and e-mails every hour. . . . The Black Widow, performing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, searches through and reassembles key words and patterns, across many languages.’
Barack Obama will be in charge of the biggest domestic and international spying operation in history. Its prime engine is the National Security Agency (NSA)—located and guarded at Fort Meade, Maryland, about 10 miles northeast of Washington, D.C. A brief glimpse of its ever-expanding capacity was provided on October 26 by The Baltimore Sun’s national security correspondent, David Wood: “The NSA’s colossal Cray supercomputer, code-named the ‘Black Widow,’ scans millions of domestic and international phone calls and e-mails every hour. . . . The Black Widow, performing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second, searches through and reassembles key words and patterns, across many languages.”
In July, George W. Bush signed into law the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which gives the NSA even more power to look for patterns that suggest terrorism links in Americans’ telephone and Internet communications.
The ACLU immediately filed a lawsuit on free speech and privacy grounds. The new Bush law provides farcical judicial supervision over the NSA and other government trackers and databasers. Although Senator Barack Obama voted for this law, dig this from the ACLU: “The government [is now permitted] to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and e-mail addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.”
This gives the word “dragnet” an especially chilling new meaning.
The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, director of its National Security Project, adds that the new statute, warming the cold hearts of the NSA, “implicates all kinds of communications that have nothing to do with terrorism or criminal activity of any kind.”
Why did Obama vote for this eye-that-never-blinks? He’s a bright, informed guy, but he wasn’t yet the President-Elect. The cool pragmatist wanted to indicate he wasn’t radically unmindful of national security—and that his previous vow to filibuster such a bill may have been a lapse in judgment. It was.
What particularly outraged civil libertarians across the political divide was that the FISA Amendments Act gave immunity to the telecommunications corporations—which, for seven years, have been a vital part of the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping program—thereby dismissing the many court cases brought by citizens suing those companies for violating their individual constitutional liberties. This gives AT&T, Verizon, and the rest a hearty signal to go on pimping for the government.
That’s OK with the Obama administration? Please tell us, Mr. President.
Some of us began to see how deeply and intricately the telecoms were involved in the NSA’s spying when—as part of an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit—it was revealed by a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, that he had found a secret AT&T room in which the NSA was tapping into the telecom giant’s fiber-optic cables. On National Public Radio on November 7, 2007, he disclosed: “It’s not just AT&T’s traffic going through these cables, because these cables connected AT&T’s network with other networks like Sprint, Qwest [the one firm that refused to play ball with the government], Global Crossing, UUNet, etc.”